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@ EconSM: Social Video Explosion: We Don’t Need Hits; Longform Can Work

Panel moderator Robert Scoble opened by asking our guests for an overview of the emerging social video space. Loic Le Meur, CEO of webcam video commenting startup Seesmic, said “about 200 blogs” had adopted the site’s new video commenting plugin, allowing anyone with a webcam to respond to a blog post by recording video, in the last three days. Le Meur: “We are focusing on enabling conversation in video. The conversation we have on blogs happens only in text; there is no conversation, it’s not very interactive. I believe we will get the same quality of conversation you get in blog comments but in video.”

The long and the short: Conventional wisdom says internet users want only short clips. But Jim Louderback, CEO of Diggnation production house Revision 3 said: “250,000 people watch (hour-long) Diggnation every week so people will watch longform content. Shortform isn’t going away – the context in how people view is bifurcating.” Meaning, some people will watch a long show on their computer, some on their iPod, some on their cellphone, some on a 50-inch LCD TV. But some will play portions of shows across every device, depending on their situation.

Louderback said there are now three primetimes for beer-drinking relaxers at 8pm-11pm; bored office workers at 12pm-2pm and now young male geeks at home 12am-4am on a Saturday night: “I’ll leave it to you to figure out what they’re looking for. Proving the point about TV-like content, Veoh founder Dmitry Shapiro said 30,000 people every day download Veoh’s electronic program guide app.

Web stealing TV’s ad cash?: YouTube content partnerships head Jordan Hoffner: “That is the case but it’s not a dollar-for-dollar transfer. A dollar lost from NBC isn’t necessarily a dollar in YouTube’s pocket. Even if you have this audience like we do, it still isn’t that we’re taking money directly from NBC’s pocket. The format is great for users; we haven’t necessarily proved that it’s great for advertisers yet.”

Shapiro offered more on advertisers: “Advertisers don’t want to buy user-generated content; they want to buy audience. The audience that watches Heroes is the same audience that watches Diggnation. Advertisers are very open to following that argument.”

Am I hit or not?: A questioner in the crowd asked whether Louderback’s portfolio of shows, which pull far fewer viewers than your average network TV output, can really succeed?Louderback: “The idea that you’re going to have these huge hits with millions and millions of viewers is fundamentally wrong. If I have 20 to 30 shows that get half a million to a million views a month, that is absolutely profitable and scalable because our cost of production is so low. It’s a 10th of what traditional broadcasting is – $100 to $200 a minute.” So cheap that, where traditional broadcast uses 12 people per episode, Revision 3 shows use two – and Louderback is aiming to drive that down to one. But quality is important. Said Shapiro: “The jerky video is emerging in to entertaining video that you want to watch day after day.”

Community and social networks: This being the social video panel, how important are the social networks in promoting video consumption? “community is absolutely essential,” said Shapiro, because it gives viewers a more direct connection to TV hosts than they otherwise would have had with the likes of Walter Kronkite: “This ability to spread word quickly is extremely important to any business. As connected as I am, I’m often extremely surprised at how late I find out about hit shows on TV – I didn’t start watching Lost until season two. That’s a shame – and social networks allow you to spread that word.” Added Louderback: “We have a Facebook application that’s not very popular – doesn’t mean the networks aren’t important, though.”

YouTube’s Hoffner said the biggest challenge facing web video is discoverability. It may be easy to find a travel guide on Paris, but finding quality comedy – that’s something altogether messier, he suggested. And he put the onus on content creators to better use metatagging. Still, Hoffner said YouTube’s newly extended API was crucial. After all, allowing people to use what might, at first glance, appear to be rival services along with YouTube might bump its traffic. Hoffman: “It’s not just being an internet distribution mechanism” – it’s about being able to capture video using some mobile phone service and upload it to YouTube.

Making Seesmic pay: A questioner in the crowd suspiciously questioned Le Meur on who’s paying the bandwidth bill for his video commenting service. He conceded: “Right now, it’s my investors that are paying the bill so I’m aware of the weakness of this model – but I’m counting on the advertisers coming in. Either (users) accept non-intrusive ads or branding or something – not this year but next year – or we’ll give you a full (premium) version like Flickr.”